Sunday, December 30, 2012

Lesson Three: Learn the Language

I am a good writer. I can relate facts and figures and feelings easily. I can craft new characters, although I am working hard to improve that skill. It is the greatest skill a good author needs. I am good at creating dialogue. My plots are strong. I thought that was all I needed to break into this literary world.

Oh, I was so wrong.

An author needs to learn a new language. It is the publishing language. It is putting all those writing skills into something that agents and editors will recognize and take under their wing. Being something familiar helps. I rolled my eyes at comments by a particular agent who says he filters potential candidates first by seeing where they got their MFA degree and then by whether they had an Ivy League diploma.

That was troubling because I have neither an MFA degree nor an Ivy League diploma. But I am trying to learn that common language. The novel I am revising and the second novel I have under construction both speak that language better than my earliest effort. It's part of the learning curve.

How am I learning that language? That will come in Lesson Four.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Lesson Two: Rejection is rejection

How naive was I when I started sending out query letters? So naive that I wrote an early blog entry about how good some rejection letters were.

Note to self: Rejection is rejection. The fact an agent uses nice words doesn't improve that. It's like the woman who nicely deflects a marriage proposal.

"But you are the one I want to spend the rest of my life with?"

"You are the best person I know, and the funniest, and the one with the best insight into who I am. But we just aren't made for each other. Good luck finding the right person. Good night."

Yeah, it's something like that.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Lesson One: What's in a Name?

Time for some soul-searching. I will look back at the 10 best lessons I learned while venturing into this publishing business. The first lesson? Do better research on the name of a blog.

I started out with a really good idea for a blog. I was going to create a forum for all those struggling writers who hammer away without getting a publishing deal. I thought I had a really good title, too.

The First-Timers.

The name fits. All those writers who are aiming for their first publishing contract seemed like fertile ground for a blog. Am I right? Probably. I just didn't check out the name thing first.

Something called "The First-Timers" doesn't first bring to mind the publishing business, according to Google. That title is reserved for something much more intriguing, like first-time sexual experiences. Hmmm, Google is going to like that subject matter. My blog on the publishing business? Not so much.

The current name, "Fingertips on Keyboard," was born about two weeks after I started the blog. I comes from a line I wrote in my first novel (the one in dry dock for later revisions). It describes a big part of my life over the past few years. It works. The First-Timers? Only if I'm interested in reading about a person's leap into sexual adulthood. Uh, not so much.

Lesson No. 2 will be posted later Friday.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Time, time ... where's the time?

I haven't posted a blog entry in a long time. I know that. I understand the need to build a platform. I will build that platform in the best way I can right now, which is by revising the manuscript for my novel. After all, they say the best way to sell a book is through great writing.

Let me explain my long absence on this blog.

My literary endeavors are whittled down to working on revisions. Video blogs? Can't fit them into my schedule. This blog? Difficult to do. You see, I am working two jobs these days. I am the managing editor for nine regional "hyperlocal" publications in the Denver metro area. It is a full-time job. My second job is being editorial director for woodypaige.com, the online entity for The Denver Post's colorful and successful columnist. I have a certain amount of social media duties involved in both of those jobs. Add in my time spent on revisions and that cuts "available time" to the absolute nub.

Here's the good part, though. I love all three jobs. The "hyperlocal" job means I get to lead 17 of the best young talents in the business. I am not exaggerating when I say that. I am blessed to work with these people. The Woody Paige gig is a hoot. I get to cruise each day through some of the best sports journalism in the world and select those stories that will go on the website. And I get to work with Woody, who is a great boss. Then there is my literary work. I am refining character, amping up tension in certain scenes and editing for consistency and impact.

I will hereby make a vow. I will post something to this blog for each of the next 10 days. This will have more power than the standard New Year's resolution. Just watch.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Close editing a must for manuscripts

I have had an enlightening past several days. I did a line-by-line edit on my 375-page manuscript, looking to tighten here, add a little there, take out extraneous words, add personality clues -- you know, all those items that make a work more complete. What did I learn? Oh, let me tell you.

I learned I use two words far too often. They are "just" and "very," and they are just very unnecessary in almost every case. I left a couple cases of "just" in because they add the immediacy factor to events. "Very" disappeared entirely.

I learned the little asides I inserted in an earlier edit weren't needed. It was a needed nip-and-tuck.

I learned I needed to ramp up the tension in some chapters. I added more peril where peril was needed.

I learned my final chapter is pretty good. It gives an intimate look at my protagonist, and he is an interesting man to get to know. What can I tell you? He is retired military. He has a distinguished record. He is a good businessman, good enough that he has a million-dollar house in the Seattle area. He lives alone, by design. He keeps the foundations in his life simple, but they have more than enough weight to support his needs. His life isn't perfect, and it gets more imperfect.Therein lies the rub.

I learned I like this guy more every day. He is a challenge. People are more interesting that way.

WHAT I AM READING: I stayed in my "The Art of ..." groove. I finished "The Art of Racing in the Rain," which was enjoyable but somewhat inconsistent. I absolutely loved the start and the ending. I look differently at my dogs because of that. I am just starting to read "The Art of Fielding" by Chad Harbach. It was recommended by some baseball beat writers I know, and by some normal people, too.

MY NEW JOY: I am on vacation this week, which means I call the shots on how my time is spent. Obviously editing and writing have filled several hours. So has time with family members and my always enthusiastic and lovable dogs. I savor chances to sit in the sun and enjoy 75-plus-degree days. I enjoy laughing with the people I love. Life is good.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Right Image So Hard to Find

It's still not right. No, not my novel but my blog picture. Have ... to ... get ... it ... right ... soon.
This one isn't bad. Neither was the previous one. I simply hasn't hit the perfect tone yet. It's like having a paragraph in a novel that needs work. I tweak here. I tweak there. Finally it all comes together. I'm sure it will happen one of these days.

WHAT I'M READING NOW: "The Art of Racing in the Rain" by Garth Stein. He's a Pacific Northwest writer, and that's my geographical background. He also works with one of my favorite agents, Jeff Kleinman, and Stein is creative and daring enough to make a dog the narrator and protagonist. I'm not sold on Stein's pacing, but I'm only a third of the way through the book. I eagerly await the later chapters. Of course, I keep Donald Maass' how-to guide about writing the breakout novel near me at all times.

I also finished Jeffery Deaver's "The Cold Moon" and enjoyed his use of intricate plot lines. Now I understand why he needs two months to outline a book. Gosh, what twists and turns.

I am nearing the end of a line edit of my novel. I expect to have that done within the next two days. I have hammered away at my query letter, improving it in the process. I should start pitching the novel to agents within the week.

In the meantime, I will consider better pictures to make my author image come alive. I wish I could do it with the ease of changing paragraphs, but I'm a word guy and not a photography guy. So it goes.

Friday, September 14, 2012

An Oldie But a Goodie

I have to do this again because the song fits my writing life so well. I think almost every novelist feels the same way. Thank you, as always, Paul Simon.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Query Letter: Your Key To The Kingdom

I started talking about the need for a powerful query letter when I started this blog. I said I could not tell you exactly what a perfect query letter is. What can I tell you several months later? Same thing.

Writing query letters is an inexact science. It becomes exact science only when you hit the right agent with the right words at the right time.

Do you want evidence to show just how important that query letter is? It is the method by which most writers get to enter the kingdom of the publishing houses. It is a very exclusive kingdom, by the way. Forget the scores of books you see on the shelves of a Barnes and Noble or any other bookstore you enter. Those scores of books hide millions of queries that authors fastidiously crafted but ended up being kicked to the curb.

What main things have I learned? Let's try these:
  • Know your material. Be so in tune with what you have written that you can detail it and give a glimpse at the reasons you wrote it. That in turn casts light on another fact: Know yourself as a writer. Be honest with yourself when you are weighing that last question. No b.s. allowed.
  • Be creative. Agents don't want to be sold an idea; they want to embrace an author and why he or she writes. Is your novel, well, novel? Let that show in your query letter. Write in the same style as you do in your most creative moments while lovingly building your characters and plot.
  • Have thick skin. Every author talks about piles of rejection letters he or she received. Some of those now-published authors keep those rejection letters, which have turned yellow, in order to remember what it took to get where they are. Some authors talk about the two or three early projects that never got off the ground, but something clicked after that and they were accepted. It takes time. Sometimes time and circumstance hurt. Learn from it.
  • Recognize the time constraint you face. When an agent picks up YOUR query letter, you have a minute or less to grab attention. Agents talk about being pitch perfect in your query. Translation: Make me want this project within that allotted time.
  • Write well and get better. Every agent boils down what it takes to get accepted to one golden rule: Write a great novel. A lesson I finally learned: Read other great authors, learn from them, take those lessons to the pages you write.
Do I have the answer about writing that great query letter? I'm getting better, both in my query letter and my novels. I know I have the answer when an agent says he or she wants to represent me. Only then can I write something "definitive" about the art of writing a query.

Keep going. Be creative. It's a wonderful ride. Enjoy it.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Finding Time? What's Free Time?

I have not been bad about writing lately. I have been absolutely terrible about blogging. So, here goes a quick update.

I have stepped back from sending out queries about my second novel, at least for a couple of weeks. I saw two agents post items on Twitter or their blogs that changed my thinking. One agent, Evan Gregory, said the number of agents who actually work in August is usually down. It's a big vacation period, and even agents need vacations. Fancy that!!! Agent Kristin Nelson in Denver gave a short note in a recent blog about loving to tackle that big workload in the winter. Summer brings thoughts of good things to do -- other than dive through queries, read manuscripts, etc. Heck, I understand that. Give me swimming pools and barbecue grills over streams of unedited copy every day of the week. So, take those two agents' comments together and I made a decision to wait.

My writing has been going great. I am tweaking former works here and there. I am full speed ahead on my latest novel. I have one completed novel on the back burner, where there are two other works that I started but decided it just wasn't the right time to roll out that type of material. Later, later, later ...

My new day job is busy, interesting and a big change from my previous tasks. For those who aren't "in the loop," this is my new gig: I am managing editor of the YourHub sections for The Denver Post. YourHub consists of 10 regional publications in the metro area that are published once a week -- with online and social media components as well. It has kept me occupied, to say the least.

Time. Time. Time. Can I please have more hours in the day?

I have been writing a lot lately. I just haven't been blogging much about it. My bad. Have to correct that oversight. Be updating you again soon.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Great Tragedies Are Wake-up Calls

I am among the Coloradans who woke up Friday morning and faced the news of the shootings at the Aurora theater. We sat there stunned as we heard radio reports, or saw the first videos, or scanned the Internet accounts on DenverPost.com and other venues. We ached. We wondered why. We hurt. We wondered why some more. We worried about those still in critical condition. We prayed for families who lost someone in the shootings. We prayed for ... what? ... a hand of guidance so things like this won't happen again, knowing fully that they will.

Why does it take something like this to shake us awake? Why do we need multiple deaths to make us feel the heartbreak of loss?

I don't want to sound like some morose thinker, but I have wondered about these questions. I put some of those into a small part of my first novel. My protagonist, Sean McNabb, is dogged by those questions. He says we see evidence of death every day, from obituaries to stories about murders, suicides and fatal accidents. We read those stories but we don't feel a thing. He says we are numb to death unless it happens to someone close to us, and then we are ripped open to our core. I will now add one other thing that opens us to our core: something of the magnitude of the Aurora shootings, or 9/11, or the JFK assassination, etc. Those give us a wake-up call.

Death shows no favorites. It doesn't care about us. We don't care about it unless it finally makes us hurt deep inside.

Why? Maybe I'm remembering back to childhood days and putting a nice sheen on them, but I can't remember being so blase about death back then. Maybe it was because I grew up in a small town of about 10,000 -- The Dalles, Oregon -- and every name in the obituaries struck a chord because it involved someone I knew or at least knew of them. I had two school friends who were murdered, both of them after they moved away. I can remember two murders in my 18 years in The Dalles, one involving a transient in a downtown hotel and the other of a classmate in high school.

Now things are different. Incidents of tremendous violence hit the pages of my newspaper almost every day. There was a story of the shootings of two men on East Colfax in Denver about two months ago, and I didn't hear a murmur of shock or outrage about that. There are stories about the deaths of children who are shaken, stomped, burned or forced to go through unimaginable acts. We don't shed a tear. People react more to news about the Kardashians or Justin Bieber than they do about the deaths of innocents.

Why? Why? Why?

I have only theories. Here are some of them.

We Americans have been at war almost constantly since the 1940s. We had World War II, Korea, tensions along the Iron Curtain, the threat of nuclear war, Vietnam, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan. In between we have had smaller skirmishes such as Grenada or the former Yugoslavia. The most cynical part of me wonders whether the U.S. has done that because war is good business, and a good spur to economic prosperity. WWII helped lift the world out of the Great Depression. It also shook off the terror of a Nazi regime and blunted Japanese hopes for expansion, but the economic lessons were learned. So we throw more young men and women into battle, arm them with pride in nation, and mourn them by flying flags at half staff when they die. We don't feel the shock of an individual death unless we have a friend come home in a body bag.

We also have welcomed more violence in our homes and our lives. Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" was a jarring movie in the 1960s because of the violence of Norman Bates that was portrayed. That movie wouldn't even make the top 500 for graphic content today. The games we play on our TV screens add another layer. A small portion of those games involve sports, and the level of violence is rather small. But most video games involve heavy doses of death, and especially dealing death to "video foes." We see blood spurt out of bodies, and heads roll to the ground, and hearts ripped out of chests. And players "win" when they pile up that much carnage. All that "fictional" violence provides a thick layer of insulation toward the impact of death. We become numb.

We have changed as a society. Maybe the biggest putdown you could deliver to someone when I was young was that they were self-centered. We lived in a time when JFK could talk about "ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country" and have it resonate with the listeners. There was a cultural foundation, partly from religion and partly from the prevailing culture, that you should think about the plight of others first. We were the altruistic generation. We saw that hit multiple obstacles. I know that prevailing altruism has been lost. That self-centered thing? It is the basis of the new American culture. You worry about your rights. You worry about your business. You worry about your money. You worry only about your family and your closest friends. The rest of the world? Why worry about that? Other competing ideas? Forget them. That new society adds another layer of insulation against being compassionate humans.

We also have become a culture that accepts death as advantageous. Abortion is a subject that pulls me in two directions. I fully understand the fears of a woman who is pregnant but didn't intend for it to happen. Hell, I'll be honest here: I was one of those unplanned kids. Thank God my mom opted to have me even after she was warned that another pregnancy could permanently harm her or lead to her death. As a college student, I had a woman I loved get pregnant, and she opted to have an abortion. I was an enthusiastic champion of abortion at the time. I drove her to her appointment. When she came out of the office, she was silent. She stayed silent for a couple of days. She finally told me that she glanced over the edge of the table during the procedure, and she watched little red clots going up a tube. "That was my baby," she told me. Then it hit me. That was my baby, too. I went from being strongly pro-abortion to strongly anti-abortion in an instant. I haven't swerved from that change of heart. I dearly wish that child could sit down with me and enjoy a good movie, or maybe a good mocha, or show me his or her children -- my grandchildren -- and tell me about the wonders they have brought into his or her life. I can't reverse the irreversible.

Many people who back abortion so vehemently are good folks (and friends) who believe that every human being deserves respect, and that respect is there from birth. I take the value of life a little farther. Every child in the womb has every genetic marker and developing system of a human being. But those same backers of abortion who tout respect for all humans also have to accept the notion that if someone sees no need for respect for the child in the womb, then we are to meet that decision with a shrug of the shoulders. I'm not one for shrugging my shoulders. And that acceptance of death as a good thing adds another layer of insulation.

We are numb to death except for instances of family and friends, or great magnitude? I'm not surprised. I am sorry it takes a violent wake-up call to bring out the best of humanity. Maybe we just need to learn to shrug our shoulders less often, and push the acceptance of violence farther away from ourselves. After all, there is no such thing as a meaningless death. It matters to someone who is still living.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Moving Forward With Purpose

I am on a roll with the third novel. Maybe it's because this writing process is kicking into gear, or I'm simply learning HOW to write better. Maybe those are the same thing. Anyway, I am having a blast right now.

I just can't tell you much about it.

Here's one thing: I have made a tweak on my story line. Remember my post about selecting Moonlight Beach in Encinitas as the setting for my first chapter? I decided to move farther down the road to Swami's Beach. There are reasons I can't go into here. I want to get back to that area for a visit soon. It is such a beautiful part of the country, and it's been too long since I've been there. Walking through a neighborhood on The Strand south of Coronado or serving as part of the crew for a yacht race on San Diego Bay are among some of my greatest memories ever.

What I am reading: The Reversal by Michael Connolly. I love the fact he's a former journalist. I also love the fact he can write a crime/courtroom novel with the best of them. I am hooked on this one.

What is next on my reading list: The Bottoms by Joe Lansdale. I finished reading Lansdale's "Lost Echoes" a couple of weeks ago. I like Joe's style. He writes like he talks, and that's a good thing. The man is a treasure in the literary world.

What am I listening to: Classical when I'm writing. I let Pandora take me wherever it wants to lead me, or I have a drag-down listing if I want to control the vibe. The second movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is a knockout, but I have trouble concentrating on my writing when it's playing. The music makes me stop whatever I'm doing and listen. Not a good thing when I'm putting plot points in a manuscript. If I'm not writing I am listening to lots of David Byrne, especially the best of the old Talking Heads stuff. Santana's "Soul Sacrifice" from Woodstock is maybe my favorite live performance ever. I can't stop tapping my feet and wanting to dance. That also is a good thing.

What to do now? Do the classical thing and write? Do the David Byrne thing and get that out of my system? Writing gets first priority.

Until later.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Ah, To Be Back at Full Stride

It took awhile for all the dust from the carnage of my job loss to quiet down. Now that it has, I have settled back into the routine I love, the one in which I spend several hours a day being an author. It is good to have a certain degree of normalcy in my life.

No author will give details about what he or she is writing, but I will give a brief overview. I am a West Coast guy, so I focus my plot in familiar surroundings. There is not a single place I write about I have not visited or been exposed to by stories of people who have lived there. Part of that is because of one of the central tenets in my writing -- make the settings so familiar to readers that they can easily identify with them. I am a fan of Stephen Spielberg's early films, movies like "Duel" and "E.T.", because they take average folks in average surroundings and make them face amazing circumstances. The viewer then is taken along for the ride.

I owe part of that tenet to writers such as Harlan Coben. His "Live Wire" is about a top sports agent representing the rich and famous, and he adds rock stars and Mafia folks and the stuff of elevated reality. But he surrounds those people in the familiar surroundings of his New Jersey, right down to listing stores at big malls and scenes along highways in the area. Any reader familiar with that section of New Jersey -- and let's face it, there are millions and millions of readers familiar with it -- buys into Coben's details and the novel as a whole. I hope to do the same with my Western U.S. settings.

I also have adopted a new pace to my writing. I used to write huge section after huge section, then wait to review and rewrite after my novel was complete. I don't do that anymore. I have adopted something closer to Joe Lansdale's way of writing. He says he spends just a few hours a day writing and produces maybe three to five pages of manuscript. He writes, then reviews and rewrites that single section. I am doing that, and it works.

So, I have borrowed part of Jeffery Deaver's method of outlining the novel first, and part of Lansdale's pace of writing. Now, if I can only match their success. At least I have the weight of worry about job loss placed on the back burner where it belongs and can concentrate on being an author. Happy days are here again!!!!!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

In Middle of Chaos, A Novel

I did it. The urge finally got too strong, and I had to do it. I sat down and wrote two chapters in my third novel!!!! Maybe that doesn't sound like much, but it's a pretty good achievement considering the rest of my schedule lately. Losing your job puts a considerable crimp in a normal writing routine.

I have been feeling like a juggler who gets tossed a new task every day. Sending out queries for my second novel. Job applications. Questions about a new job at The Post. Sending out resumes. Using my reporter skills to get a good handle on what exactly happened at The Post in those maddening days when the company needed to collect severed heads in a basket and call them "voluntary resignations." It's not a pretty story in some instances ... but that's to be saved for another time.

Why wait? Because I'm back to writing the stuff I love to write. I will forge on with another chapter or two today, then I will get back to continuing the outline for my story. This is a totally different way to approach the task of writing, but it has worked well so far. (Of course, I am only two chapters into what will become a pretty lengthy novel.)

I will give a short glimpse at my first chapter. I knew the novel would open on a southern California beach, but I didn't want just any beach. It had to look a certain way. It had to have a sweep of land where the ocean left a nice strip of sand pressed against a cliff. It couldn't have lots of condos towering above the beach. It couldn't be so accessible that the sand was tossed around by large amounts of human activity. I wanted a nice, pristine beach. I searched, and searched, and searched. I rejected idea after idea after idea. Then it all fell into place ... Moonlight Beach in Encinitas. It was perfect, and the scenario I wanted was there.

Here's where I got my surprise. I told my wife about my choice and she immediately said she knew the place. I knew her grandparents owned a home that looked over a beach somewhere in the area north of San Diego, but I wasn't sure which beach it was. It was Moonlight Beach, and my wife and her sister spent time there as children. How strange is that? Of course, what I have happen on Moonlight Beach isn't anything they viewed as children, or at least I hope not.

I am going to be happy when this job thing is resolved. They say that losing a job is near the top of stress-producers, not far behind losing a family member. I agree. The mental toll is exhausting. I have tried to keep up a brave front, but there have been times of anger, and times of tears, and times of feeling far too alone. There have been times of emotional numbness. I am ready for a break. I hope it comes soon.

But, hey, I have a writing session to look forward to today!!!! How great is that? It is therapy for the mind and soul. Lord, I need that.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

An Overloaded Schedule

I apologize for not posting anything lately. I have been a little busy.

You know those problems new authors say they have about juggling allotted time between crafting their works of fiction and their day job? Well, I can say from recent experience that the burden of time between tasks is much more daunting when it involves writing fiction and dealing with LOSING your day job. The Denver Post says I am out the door on June 15; I have a difference of opinion, but that will wait for another day. Part of my workload has been making contacts to determine  ... well, no details as of right now. Much of my workload has involved combing through job postings, then turning in applications for potential jobs. Some of the applications involve a good deal of time to connect all the dots. Add to that the stress of potentially losing my livelihood of more than 37 years and I think you can understand my angst.

My fiction hasn't gone untouched. I have started outlining the second novel in my series, a procedure I adopted after listening to a Jeffery Deaver presentation. However, I cannot do it the way Deaver does. He takes several weeks to come up with an outline from first chapter to last, and then he sits down to write. I cannot do that. I have outlined my first 10 chapters, but the words to the first chapter are banging at my brain in the middle of the night and in the middle of work shifts. I will write that first chapter, and I am sure several others will follow before I break and do a plot outline on the next section.

I also am revising my query letter. I feel it needs a few tweaks. Once this "losing a job" routine provides a break, I will begin sending out to a few select agents.

I feel like a juggler, but I wish I was juggling hoops and rubber balls. It feels like I am juggling elephants, but if elephant juggling is what is required then I will do it.

More later.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Select Settings You Can Embrace

My latest novel has four main settings. I am familiar with each, and I try to let my readers feel each location. Authenticity is such a beautiful asset to any novel. My settings are:

Downtown Denver. I have worked there for more than six years, and I know the details of the exact location where my action takes place. I also drove to the location and researched small details.

Suburban area north of Seattle. I selected the town of Mukilteo because I stayed there and thought it was one of the lovely parts of the Puget Sound area. I put my protagonist in a pretty upscale area of a beautiful Pacific Northwest location.

San Francisco Bay Area. I use Candlestick Park, where I have been about 40 times, and the northern Napa Valley town of Angwin, which I know from my working days in nearby Santa Rosa. There are little details about Angwin I will use to bolster reasons why one specific supporting character chose that exact spot.

Los Angeles and areas of the San Fernando Valley. I know these areas from my younger days. The L.A. neighborhood is just over the hill from Dodger Stadium, on the seam between L.A. proper and Glendale. The San Fernando Valley area was where my aunt and uncle and their family lived, and I know the boulevards and side streets. Of course, I never saw any of the action I have take place in these neighborhoods, but that is the advantage of fiction. As author Jeffery Deaver says about his days as a journalist, you have to use only facts in that job, and what's the fun in that?

I am not going to get very literary here. I think the best writers use areas where they know the slope of the hills, the twist of roads, the smells on the streets at supper time, and the main characteristics of the people who live there. That authenticity translates to their works, and they simply weave in story line to make the fabric of a novel. John Hart's best works are set in the North Carolina towns where he grew up. Joe Lansdale's best works are set in east Texas. I am just following their lead.

Now I am plotting out my next novel. I will start it on a Southern California beach and end it _ well, I am just beginning my outline and I haven't decided where just yet. I know WHAT will happen, just not where. The only thing I can say it will be a life-or-death situation, but that's the life of an author of thrillers. I can't wait to sit down and create it all.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

What To Do When Your World Collapses

Almost every author has a day job, save for those chosen few who are blessed enough to do the job they love for a profitable living. Well, my day job is collapsing, and so is some of the rest of my world. An explanation is needed.

I am a copy editor at The Denver Post, which is joining the parade of narrow-minded thinkers who decide that copy editors are the most expendable part of the publishing enterprise. I disagree strongly, but it's not my newspaper. I am under pressure to put in my resignation (the pressure being an enhanced insurance package for six months) and then walk out the door. I am not alone _ 16 or 17 other copy editors will join the unpopular exodus.

OK, the obvious question: Now what? First, I have kept a good attitude about all this. Well, there was yesterday when the impact of all this hit me. That, however, was a momentary lapse. Today I am focusing my efforts on building new revenue streams, to put it in the language of those who sever jobs for enhanced profits. I am sending out queries on my newest novel to those agents I hold in highest regard. I also am hitting job boards in the Denver area and combing through possible new careers.

I am putting one of my favorite movie lines as my theme for the coming days. It comes from Ed Harris in "Apollo 13" as the NASA team weighs the challenges facing it. The line is simple: "Failure is not an option." I like the sound of that, and I am as dedicated to that as Harris and Co. were. I will triumph against whatever odds life throws at me.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Great Writer Must Read

One of my lessons from the Pikes Peak Writers Conference was Joe Lansdale's advice to me to become a voracious reader. To put Lansdale's point in simplest terms: A writer can become great by reading other great writers. The writer-as-reader learns the art of it all that way. He knows that from his own experience. I had a cardinal rule when I was writing a novel: I did not read any other works. That meant for seven to 12 months I didn't pick up a work of fiction of non-fiction. I am mending my ways.

I am juggling reading three works right now, one fiction, one non-fiction and one educational. The fiction is Harlan Coben's "Live Wire" so I can see how a great mystery writer handles his work. My non-fiction is Antonio Salinas' "Siren's Song: The Allure of War" so I can drink in the atmosphere of a soldier on the battlefield. My educational work is Donald Maass' "The Breakout Novelist". I will give a short breakdown on each work.

Coben has an interesting style. He definitely creates characters who are bigger than life, and he puts them in larger-than-life situations. He also lets dialogue carry the freight more than most authors. He is an enjoyable read, and it is no surprise that his work shows up high on the NYT best sellers list.

Salinas is a young writer but a veteran soldier who is still on active duty. His memoirs of his time in Afghanistan are interesting and challenging. He is especially good at giving the reader the feeling of being on the battlefield, and in showing the mindset of a soldier at war. I am a veteran copy editor, and I would have worked on his copy more. There are several places I would have tightened the wording considerably. None of that takes away from the power of the narrative.

Maass' book is worth its weight in gold. He is one of the most powerful agents in the business, and he is a master teacher. He goes through the writing process from beginning to end, and he instructs and challenges the author along the way. This book will be at my fingertips as I continue down my road and become a career novelist. Is that lofty thinking? As the line in "Apollo 13" says, "Failure is not an option."

I have one work I will purchase and put on my must-read list. It is "The Bottoms" by Lansdale. After one of his classes at PPWC, Lansdale told me that one of his overall themes after decades of writing is the impact of racism. The story line of this novel hits that head on. It might not be a comfortable read in some parts, but a great writer learns by reading great writing. This novel won the Edgar Award as best mystery novel of the year. Winning an Edgar is no small feat, and I look forward to the experience. If there is a downside, it is that it took me that long to get around to it. Shame on me.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Profanity in Dialogue? @#*@ yes!!

I have a lot of Christian friends. I know a lot of them have delicate sensibilities about certain topics. As a service to them, I hereby issue a warning about the novels I write. They will draw an R rating, and some chapters will have a very hard R rating.

I don't do this to shock people. I do it because I want my characters and situations to be real. Do people have things in their past of which they are embarrassed? Of course. We all do. I put some of those things into my novels. Do we do things now that are morally ambiguous? Some people do; I try not to be one of them. Do we live in a world where those around us are obscenity-spewing louts? Yes we do. I put some of those things into my novels. Are there horrendous actions done that make even jaded people wince? Yes, and I put some of those things into my books.

My main character in my second novel is a squeaky clean guy with the exception of the things he does that are at the very center of the action. Does he swear? He makes it a point not to do it. Is he sexually immoral? No. (Well, there is that final chapter of the book.) Does he hide behind his squeaky clean image and do things that would be considered sinful by a Christian audience? Well, there are definitely situations of moral ambiguity. He steadfastly forges ahead on one road in those situations because that is part of the foundation of his character. He rarely stops and questions his actions because he has answered all those questions before. Why relive old internal arguments?

I will center only on the use of obscenity in this blog entry. OK, my main guy makes it a point not to swear. Where's any potential problem then? It's because I put him into a real world where he is surrounded by real people. Some secondary characters are f-bomb-dropping folks who occasionally include references to body parts. Do I have to do that? I feel I do. I want my readers to feel the grit and the grime, partly to become a counterpoint to my main character. Are these f-bomb droppers bad people? No, but they do have what I consider a bad habit. So do people I work with. So do pastors I know who hit their fingers with hammers. So do I. I don't forgive them by cleaning up their language. I forgive them by realizing that every human has flaws, and I let the characters be very human. Whether my readers extend forgiveness to the people I create isn't an issue for me to worry about. I expect a certain amount of criticism. OK, so welcome to the world of the writer.

A Christian might ask me: Are you honoring God with your work? I think I am by creating characters and situations that are as filled with moral hurdles as everyday life is. God watches real people face those issues every day. I think he understands. I hope my readers will understand my characters and why I create them that way.

Monday, April 23, 2012

My Favorite Words: Maass, Lansdale, Deaver, Crais

I could go on and on about things I gleaned from my weekend immersion in the Pikes Peak Writers Conference in Colorado Springs. I met great agents such as Evan Gregory and Paige Wheeler, a genial and talented editor for Titan Books named Steve Saffel, gracious romance writer Susan Wiggs and a bevy of published and aspiring authors who are as committed to their love of writing as I am. But four mentors stand out, and I talk about them in no particular order of importance.

Donald Maass, head of his own literary agency and the man who literally wrote the books on how to become a great writer. (I purchased "The Breakout Novelist" and will drink in his lessons like I am on a feeding tube.) Don's greatest attribute is his burning passion for great writing. He brought challenges to every writer in the room during a lunchtime keynote speech about his view of publishing and its impact on the future. I also sat in on his teaching session of Agenting in the 21st Century, which ended with an educational give-and-take between Don and Mark Coker, the creator of Smashwords, about traditional publishing vs. e-books.

Joe Lansdale, a raw-talking east Texan and prolific writer of novels and short stories. Joe is an absolute hoot to listen to as he rolls out his lessons. He does work I almost never read, about things like spirit-draining demons, but the core of his craft resonates with me. His best lessons: Be your own writer and shove away influences that say you shouldn't do things that way; and embrace the love of great writers by reading constantly. One of my credos while I am writing is to put away all novels because I don't want to be influenced by another author's style, pacing, use of dialogue, etc. Joe told me that is absolute b.s. because great writers teach you how to become a great writer. He says you have to learn those lessons daily. I will change my ways.

Jeffery Deaver, veteran writer of thrillers and the choice to write the latest James Bond novel, "Carte Blanche." He held a session on writing thrillers and gave his pupils pointers on plotting, character development, rewriting and more. Like everything else I took away from the conference, those are treasured lessons. I went up after the session and asked him a question. One of Deaver's points is that he spends considerable time developing an outline for his novel before he types even the first word. (Many other authors don't do that but develop plot as they go, and I fall into that category.) I asked Jeffery if despite his outline he ever took out entire chapters or big chunks of his story while doing his rewrites. He said he has lopped off big chunks, but never an entire chapter. Then he did something that impressed me: Although I am one of probably 10,000 potentially published authors he meets at similar conferences, he reached out his hand and wished me luck. It wasn't window dressing. It was a genuine gesture. The man understands I am where he used to be.

Robert Crais, veteran author of police mysteries. A lot of the women in the audience made reference to Crais' movie-star good looks, but he left me with his greatest impression during a panel with fellow authors. He said he loves to spend time each day with his characters because they are characters he loves. I understand that, especially in creating the protagonist for my second novel. I enjoy Daniel Pace and the reasons for which he does certain unsavory things. I respect Pace's reasoning and his commitment to his work. I share Pace's love of the home he owns, which is on a bluff in Mukilteo, Washington, and looks down on Possession Sound. I can't wait to spend time with him. I feel sadness as I prepare all the side projects for selling and publishing this first book in the series rather than writing the second. I will find time to blend both projects in the next few days.

I must give a tip of the cap to another gracious person I met this weekend. He is Antonio Salinas, who is still active in the military and has published a book, "Siren's Song: The Allure of War," about his days as a platoon leader in Afghanistan. He offered to help me with authentic bits when I reached matters of military operations in my novels (making him the second man with extensive experience in combat zones to offer such help in the past week). His commitment to his job and his writing strike a chord with me. I will add one funny story on Antonio: He did the first and probably last bathroom signing of his book for me. I think I need to explain. There are about 450 attendees at the conference, plus faculty members and others. You might see a person in a class or just passing in the hall, and you might not see them again for the rest of the day. So, when I went into the men's room and saw Antonio on the last day of the conference, I didn't want to let an opportunity slip by. I asked him if he would sign the copy of his book I purchased. We both laughed about the setting, but he signed the book and wrote a nice note.

I don't necessarily have a desire to go to a bunch of writers conferences, but I crave interaction with the men and women familiar with the craft of writing like those I spent time with this weekend. I learned many great lessons, but I was left with one overriding impression: I have to get better. I will keep that standard in front of me until my dying day.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Pikes Peak Writers Conference Is A Blast

No, I am not overhyping the event with my title. This will be my second Pikes Peak Writers Conference, and if this one comes close to the quality of the first one I will be a happy man. But here's the secret. I think this one might be even better for me.

My first conference was a beginner's experience. I focused a lot on the proper ways to do a pitch session, which is an eight-minute, face-to-face meeting with an agent during which you try to sell your novel and gain representation. I went through one pitch session and received a request for a partial manuscript. OK, that's not extensive experience, but I am comfortable with the format. I have a pitch session this weekend with Evan Gregory, an agent for Ethan Ellenberg in New York City. Evan is an intelligent and thoughtful young man, and I am looking forward to the opportunity to meet.

My focus this year will center more on the business of being an author. I will center on subjects such as the branding of a writer, increasing traffic to blogs, etc. There will be one carryover subject ... writing a proper query. It still is the entry point for most writers who are looking to lure an agent, and any tips I can get will be greatly appreciated.

There will be chances to talk to some top writers in the business. Jeffrey Deaver, the man who was selected to write the latest James Bond novel, will be the guest speaker Friday night. I hope to speak with Jeffrey because he started out as a journalist, so maybe he can give me friendly tips. (I met author John Hart last year, and he has helped me a time or two since then in understanding the business.) Robert Crais, a veteran author and screenwriter, will speak Saturday night. One of the top agents in the business, Donald Maass, will attend. He literally wrote the book on Writing the Breakout Novel. I follow him on Twitter because he often gives tips on character development, scene setting and injecting drama. He has helped me more than he might ever know.

Meeting some of the big names is part of the fun. I was just as intrigued by learning about the writers attending the conference, many of whom are trying to land their first publishing contract just as I am. There are those who center on steampunk, romance writers, Christian writers, crime writers, dystopian writers (those who picture a future broken society), young adult writers ... the list goes on and on. It is amazing to see the diversity of writing styles and the creativity involved.

The toughest part will be working Thursday night then getting up early the next morning and driving to the Colorado Springs Marriot, the site of the conference. Keep brewin' the Starbucks, folks. I am going to need considerable amounts of caffeine to make it through that first day. But I think I can guarantee one thing: I will walk out of the conference being better prepared for this author's life than I was before. What could be better than that?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Silence Means Production

I am not one of those people who can blog while I am going full-bore on a writing project, which explains my silence over the past couple of weeks. Well, going full-bore is part of the explanation. Taking eight days of vacation and spending a wonderful time with family in South Carolina explains the rest.

I left my computer and flash drive behind. That doesn't mean I stopped working on my book. Several of my quiet times in the Carolinas were spent going over scenarios and rethinking ways I approach a certain scene. I juggled ideas. I spent middle-of-the-night time going over plot twists. I hit the ground running when I returned to Colorado. The past several days were spent rereading, rewriting and tightening. I love the work.

My goal of having the novel ready to pitch will be met. I have a pitch session scheduled during the Pikes Peak Writers Conference later this month. I will be ready. I can blog later.

Thanks to my friends who have sent me notes of encouragement. Your support is appreciated more than you will ever know.

Now, back to work.

Monday, March 19, 2012

I don't like critiques? Mea culpa

I wrote a few weeks ago of my hesitancy to get my work critiqued. I am not some haughty author who thinks his work is above reproach. I just have misgivings about certain authors I have talked to even having a clue about the kind of material I write. I welcome critiques from a good source, but I am leery of certain sources. Add in the fact that my day job is on a swing shift schedule, and that shoots down all those evening sessions so many writers groups love.

But I am open to having my work hammered, praised, helped, prodded and poked. Nothing made me more interested in that than a critique I received on my first novel when I entered the Pikes Peak Writers Conference fiction contest. I received two critiques, and one of them was a gem. The review came from someone with lots of experience in the trade, and I suspect it was an agent or an editor with a publishing house. He/she was very detailed, which is great. Here's a capsule look at the review:

1. You take too long to establish flow of action at the start of your novel. Pick up the pace.
2. Your use of two story lines is confusing. If you are going to use that method, it has to be PERFECT to make it work.
3. You write well, and in some instances very well, but you need to strip away the extra stuff.
4. You either don't get your work critiqued, or you choose not to heed the advice you get. Change that.

There were other small points, like certain word usage in a sentence, but those were just normal writer-editor issues. Here's what the critique has persuaded me to do:

1. Find ways to get critiques done even with my swing-shift schedule. I am attending the Pikes Peak conference again this year, and I will explore my options with the group's leaders while I am there.

2. Put my first novel on the back burner. My use of two story lines needs to be refined. I will pick up that novel and rework it in the future, and I will trim down the use of the second story line to avoid confusion.

3. Channel my energies into my second novel and get it finalized so I can pitch it at PPWC. I am into the edit/rewrite phase, so that is a very reachable goal. This novel doesn't suffer from slow development at the start, and it has a nice, single story line. I add lots of twists and turns, of course, but it is a much more focused work. I believe it also achieves one goal of any agent or publishing house: It is commercially viable. Now I have to convince an agent that that's the truth.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Time for a General Rant

I will let a post I left on Rachelle Gardner's excellent blog (here's a link to Rachelle's entry: http://www.rachellegardner.com/2012/03/do-authors-have-a-right-to-be-paid/#comment-304639) carry the day on my own blog. There are some issues here on which I just felt the need to comment. Here is my comment:

There are so many issues here, but I will center on the most obvious one. Anyone who is honest knows the key is women readers, who make most of the purchases. (I thought Rachel's article about Pinterest was particular interesting on this note.) And ... and I may be stepping on some toes here ... those readers are being fed by an industry where more and more women agents hold the keys to the kingdom.

Are you a romance writer? Great. There is a strong market for that, with almost all of it driven by women. Do you write mainstream? Better have a good hook for women.

I ran into problems in trying to market my first novel. The main story line sounds dark and ominous, and I had to center on that in query letters. However, there is a great deal of romance in the book, and there are issues women care about (the impact of old family wounds, the impact of the loss of a child, etc.). But that dark and ominous tone within the confines of a query letter gets me kicked to the slush pile in a hurry.

I am learning that to find a spot in this industry you have to find a niche ... make yourself comfortable in a particular genre. I am doing that. Do I write novels that appeal to women? No. I am most comfortable in writing "guy stuff" ... thrillers, but ones in which my protagonist faces serious moral dilemmas. That's the niche I am aiming for ... that smaller market demographic of men who read and want "guy stuff," but "guy stuff" with a difference. It's the result of a lesson I have learned.

On the issue of writers deserving to be paid ... none of us are entitled. I just wish the industry didn't have such rigid walls about content needing to squeeze into a certain category. But the industry has a bottom line ... it has to sell, so it rests on those things it knows are likely to sell.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Sorry for the Delay

My blog has been neglected for the past several days, but I have a very good excuse. I have been pouring out the final chapters of my second novel. I still have four or five chapters to go, so this message will be short and sweet. I am pumped!!! by my progress. The chapters I am writing are those ideas that have been there for months, and now it's time to let it all flow onto the page. What a marvelous time.

More later. Thank you all for being my friends.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Three (and 3a) Greatest Lessons I Have Learned

Launching a literary career teaches a lot of lessons. So does blogging. A list of everything I have learned would be a little daunting, so I will center on three things that stand out.

1) Be careful what you name your blog. My first title was The First-Timers, playing off the idea of first-time authors trying to get inside the velvet rope of the publishing industry. Bad idea. That title put me in a surprising number of websites that talk about first sexual experiences. Where does an author's blog find a home against that kind of competition? About the 22nd page on a Google search. I switched to Fingertips on Keyboard, which describes exactly what this part of my life entails. Pouring My Heart and Soul Onto a Page might be better, but it's rather cumbersome.

2) Selecting a proper agent and writing a good query letter are absolutely vital. The two cannot be separated. An agent might have the best track record in the business, but he or she must be a good fit for me and my work. The query letter has to be spot on. It doesn't have to follow Query Shark guidelines of 250 words or less (I dislike that barrier the more I think about it), but it does have to contain three things. It must have a nice overview of what my novel is about ... its core idea. It must tell something about me and why I am an interesting author to consider. Third, it must show my level of creative ability. The truth of whether I have the right agent and right query letter is answered only by an agent's reply. Being shoveled into the slush pile is the worst possible consequence.

3) Learn the value of the term "commercial viability." To put it in simplest terms, it means a novel ... my novels, any novel ... must sell. I have to sell an agent. The agent has to sell an editor, who has to sell to the publishing house. It's a business, first and foremost, and it's a business that is trying to find its footing in a difficult environment. The impact of Kindle, et al, is part of it as readers go digital. The impact of self-publishing, in which authors can bypass the publishing houses and still get some nice paychecks, is another. It still comes down to a business model.

3a) Isn't Pandora wonderful? I put on classical symphonic music, or simply limit my selections to a composer such as Beethoven, hook up my headphones and have background music for writing. If only they would remove those annoying ads!!! ... but Pandora is a business, too, so I have to take it as part of the landscape.
Thanks for reading. More later.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Your Characters? You Have to Go All In

Any author needs to fully invest in the characters he or she creates. Your characters have to walk with you when you are away from your computer, and then they are ready to be unveiled during your writing sessions. It's a strange relationship between reality and fiction, but one that is vital to character creation.

On that note, I encountered a bit of problem in starting my newest novel. It has an entertaining opening chapter, and there are good following chapters that fill in gaps in my main character's basic psychological makeup. But as I wrote, I didn't have that connection ... that deep conviction ... that is required.

That has changed. Why? It's a basic fact of writing fiction: Protagonists need antagonists. My first chapter centers on just such a meeting between protagonist and antagonist, but that conflict is resolved by the end of the chapter. The protagonist then slips in what seems like comfortable surroundings, all safe and secure. The story line doesn't sag, but it doesn't have that edge that threat provides. About a quarter of the way through the book, new antagonists emerge ... one in particular is quite driven and focused. My protagonist is threatened ... and my investment starts to become complete.

Now I hang on his every move and decision, and those of the secondary characters and the antagonist. I have gathered all my main and secondary characters in one general location, and I will begin to criss-cross paths and unveil new threats and reach a finale. Now I am enthused about seeing what they will face, and I am itching to get to the keyboard and let the story play out.

There's no better time to start than now. Talk to you later.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Little Night Music, Please

I have to admit I have had a little help in my writing sessions for the past few weeks. No, I haven't asked a noted author to serve as ghost writer. I have invited Mozart, Beethoven, Rossini, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky and many of their friends along for the ride.

Their help is invaluable.

It is a matter of creating the correct atmosphere to write. I have some unwritten rules when it comes to music while I create. First, no lyrics. I don't want words from a song distracting me. Second, the music has to fit who I am. I have heard from one author of horror stories that he loves to have heavy metal or hard rock playing. Good for him, but it's not a fit for me. Third, the music has to lead me along. As much as I was raised on Clapton, Hendrix, et al, the classical composers form a bond with me. Maybe it's my upbringing. I thank God I had parents who presented me with a wide range of performances to view when I was very young. We saw Polish dance troupes and Scottish marching bands, and I saw the Bolshoi Ballet doing "Swan Lake" on an American tour when I was maybe 13 years old. So, the old masters in the hands of great artists such as Itzhak Perlman or Josef Suk are familiar to me.

Does the music influence WHAT I write? No. I am writing a thriller/suspense novel, and the subject matter can get quite rough. (One of my favorite selections is the second movement of Beethoven's 9th Symphony, but I didn't choose it because of the piece's link to "A Clockwork Orange.") I can have something exceptionally mellow, like the Spring section of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, on and type away about a killer tracking a potential victim.

Does the music influence HOW I write? Oh yes. I am so focused on my work. Maybe the complexity lifts my spirit and spurs me along. There might be a multitude of reasons. I do know this: I have had some amazingly productive writing sessions ... those 1,000-word days ... in the past few weeks. Do I think the music makes a difference? I know it does.

Sorry, but it's time for Eine kleine Nachtmusik ... a Little Night Music. Hello, Mr. Mozart. How are you doing tonight? Shall we spend a few minutes together?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Critique Groups? I Keep Them at Arm's Length

Lots of authors flock to their local writing club, etc., in part for a chance to join critique groups. I avoid them. It's not that I'm afraid of criticism. I'm a journalism copy editor, so I know the application of criticism is a valuable tool. I just think that critique groups, like so much of the publishing world, tends to pen authors into a middle ground and rejects the truly original.

There is a second part to my hesitance. I know my first novel will be trimmed and bolstered by an agent and editor, and I am fine with that. In both cases, I tip my hat (and lower my tendency for hurt feelings) because the input comes from professionals. The critique group? I don't see that level of professionalism there.

Let me illustrate. I sat down with another author and gave a short synopsis of my first novel. That novel has two story lines, is complex, my characters are conflicted and challenged constantly, the plot wanders across genres as I create little vignettes in both story lines, etc. The author listening to me writes vampire novels, and the look I got was like I was speaking a foreign language. The response from the other author was tepid, at best. I thought back later that if that author was in a critique group, she might comment that my novel might be well-served by adding a character that has fangs and draws considerably more blood ... but adding a touch of humor might help, too.

I don't shout this fact to the heavens, but I like thinking outside the box. I like writing outside the box. I like finding a path to a good plot that is unlike the paths taken by so many others. My fear of critique groups? That they will herd me back inside the box, and in the process try to get me to that soft, muddled (but very sellable) middle ground.

Is it a matter of integrity or profits? For writers such as Neil Gaiman, Jeffrey Deaver, James Patterson, John Hart, etc., etc., that question is moot. They are inside the velvet ropes. They are established. They will almost have to write their way out of favor now that they are able to do what publishing houses love most ... sell books. Me? I'm on the outside looking in, still knocking on the door about my first novel as I create my second. There is a cast of tens of thousands of us out here. But you know what? I'm not going to turn to those others out here and ask if they want to form a critique group.

Stay creative. Keep trying. Develop a thick skin. Believe in yourself. One of these days, someone else will believe in you, too. Amen.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A History of Violence? Only in Fiction

My blog has suffered, weighed down by holidays, job responsibilities and lots of time spent on writing my second novel. It's time to break through the malaise.

Do other authors who deal with violence have trouble writing those scenes? I have to be honest: I am no Stephen King. I don't feel comfortable with a parade of situations in which somebody gets whacked. However, as an author, I have to occasionally write such scenes. And when I write such scenes, I find myself with two realities. The first is that discomfort in facing the situation. The second is that the scenes are very easy to write once I enter into them.

Go figure.

I just completed a scene with a high level of violence. It's not Hannibal Lecter-level violence, but it concerns circumstances that will make anyone wince. Why? Because the principal antagonist in my second novel is that much of a bad ass. I have to prepare a counter to my antagonist in order to provoke tension and set up all the "black moments" that are ahead for both characters. The funny thing is that both my protagonist and antagonist are seasoned killers. They simply do what they do for vastly different reasons, and with vastly different moral foundations. One can be accepted by a vast majority of readers; the other will provoke hate.

Go figure.

What am I reading now? "Through My Eyes" by Tim Tebow. My son Mike gave me the book for my birthday, and his timing couldn't have been better. A Denver journalist getting an inside look at the most popular and reviled figure in the city these days is very worthwhile. To me, Tebow is very understandable once you know his background. Tebowing isn't show. It's as basic to him as breathing, and I respect him for standing up for what he believes and taking shots from those who don't accept his choices.

What's next on my agenda? I will send a query to one agent who caught my eye. I think I have found a kindred spirit regarding my approach to writing. Wish me luck.